Note-Passing is Alive and Well

Your humble blogger has been away from Blogspot these past few days because of pressing business elsewhere.  Susie arrived home from Florida early Wednesday evening, and I feted her at our beloved Blue Danube Restaurant.  Both of us stayed up way too late.  She had a great time in Florida, and regaled me with stories of her visits to the Salvador Dali Museum and Weeki Wachee Preserve.

Then, I was a delegate to the 29th Biennial Convention of OCSEA (the Ohio Civil Service Employees’ Association) and AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees).  This took up my attention from Thursday morning until mid-Saturday afternoon.  I won’t bore my readers with gavel-to-gavel accounts of the general sessions, or the elections.  There is nothing to report on the travel front, since the convention was at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown, a mere block and a half from the William Green Building.  Representatives came from all over Ohio, from almost every agency.

The convention, and Susie’s month in Florida, made me realize how much instant communications have come to dominate us, and how we didn’t even miss them as recently as 25 years ago.  During the convention, many people had their cell phones out, texting to people not on the floor in Battelle Hall.  I sent several messages to an alternate delegate, keeping him abreast of the election and the floor fights.  When someone proposed rewording an article in the constitution, lo and behold, it was up on the big screen within a minute or so.  Delegates and others with loved ones on the East Coast kept news and weather Websites handy on their iPads to track Hurricane Irene as it roars northward.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden that “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”  Instant communication, beginning with the telephone, created a false sense of urgency that we will never overcome.  Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, and before then, you had to wait for news from relatives worldwide until the mail arrived.  I will grieve the death of the letter if it ever happens.  The voluminous post-Presidential correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson is invaluable and excellent reading–I’m surprised no one has made it into a two-character play.  What would have been lost if they had telephones?

Henry David Thoreau

I realized during the convention that note-passing, which many teachers saw as a grave sin, never really went away.  Instead of the surreptitiously folded piece of paper moving discreetly from hand to hand below the teacher’s line of vision, we’re now texting back and forth.  At the convention, we were seated by districts, so someone in District 6 (my district) could easily communicate with a friend across Battelle Hall by touching a few buttons on a cell phone and hitting SEND.

Earlier in this blog, I described the 1925 crash of the naval airship Shenandoah, and how my grandfather ran home to get his camera when he saw the ship was in imminent danger.  A co-worker mentioned that some kids today would ask, “Well, why didn’t he use the camera on his phone?”

I grudgingly use cell phones.  I am not sure I would if I didn’t have a daughter living with me.  My cell phones are usually a pretty sorry lot.  I buy pre-paid ones at Family Dollar and use them until they break.  My current one has no back.  The back of the phone disappeared at the party after the World Naked Bike Ride, and I’m sure it was stepped on within minutes.  So, I’m holding in the battery with a wide strip of Scotch tape, which I know is a Band-Aid measure.  (I was amused by Stephen King’s brief bio on his novel Cell: “Stephen King lives in Maine with his wife, the novelist Tabitha King.  He does not own a cell phone.”)

Susie is grateful, I think, to live in this era.  Near the last day of school in June, she was going on a field trip, and realized, after she arrived at school, that she had forgotten the permission slip that I signed and gave to her.  When I was in middle school, I would have just been shit out of luck.  No permission slip, no field trip.  But there was no problem, no crisis.  She called me at work, and the school secretary faxed me the permission slip, I signed it and filled in all the appropriate information, faxed it back, and she was able to go on the trip.

Someone Remind Me Why I Wanted to Be a Union Steward

The Ohio Civil Service Employees’ Association (OCSEA) is my third labor union.  (The first was the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers when I worked at Medco–the union later became the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union; and the second was the National Treasury Employees Union.)  I knew straight out of the gate that I wanted to be a steward, heavily influenced by Norma Rae and with visions of carrying out some type of Atticus Finch-type role while waxing eloquent at arbitration hearings à la Al Pacino in …And Justice For All.  Reality has come at me with lights and sirens blaring once again.

I had the misfortune today (it’s still Tuesday night, in my eyes) of having to escort a terminated employee from the building today.  I learned about this during the last hour and a half of the work day.  No union officers were available, so the task fell to me.  I had an immediate “Please let this cup pass” gut reaction, but agreed to do it.  A manager from Human Resources came and got me, and I waited in a supervisor’s office while he and the supervisor broke the news to the employee.

After that, it was my turn.  I went into the conference room and sat down across from the shaken, sullen man. I offered my sympathy, told him what his options were about grievance procedures, etc., and jotted down his contact information, so I could mail him grievance forms, etc.  The head of security and I walked with him back to his cubicle so he could gather up some personal effects (enough to fill a small bag; he’ll get the rest later, he said) and take him to the elevator.

The three of us were silent as we walked across Spring St. over to the employees’ garage.  It was almost like the last mile on Death Row, minus a chaplain bringing up the rear reading the Bible aloud.  The security head and I had to come with him so he could give back his magnetic card for the garage.  He would need it to raise the wooden arm on the gate to leave, so he couldn’t hand it in at the same time as his badge.

While he went up to the deck where he parked his car, the security officer and I waited at the foot of the exit ramp for his car.  I began to get worried after a few minutes, and I had an irrational fear when I saw his car coming down the incline.  The driver-side window slid down as he drew up to us, and all I could think as I saw him handing the card to us was Please, God, let that be the only thing that he sticks out that window at us.  (This was not rampant paranoia.  I was a casual clerk and rescue clerk at the Cincinnati post office from 1992 to 1995, and during that time four postal workers in several cities died at the hands of their co-workers, including those killers who turned the weapons on themselves.  Among these were two separate incidents on the same day, in post offices 2300 miles apart.)

This didn’t happen, there were no veiled threats along the lines of “This isn’t over!” or “You haven’t heard the last of me!”  Sadly, I watched him roll out of the garage and turn the corner.  I took my photocopy of his dismissal letter and left a copy under the chapter vice president’s computer keyboard, and typed her and the president of the local an email describing what went down.  (I felt like I was learning to swim by being thrown out in the middle, so I included everything I said, heard, and did during this unhappy business.)

I’m thankful the day was nearly over.  My concentration was too shaken to focus on the task I had stopped when H.R. called me, so I began closing up shop for the night.  Susie was in the lobby waiting for me, so we could go shoe-shopping after work, and that was a balm to my mood.